He did a bad thing; is redemption possible?

A few weeks ago, I checked out the movie “Passengers” from the library. I knew it had lousy reviews and had read some backlash against the movie’s premise but since it was free and I liked the actors, I figured what the heck.

If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want any spoilers, then better skip this blog post. If you’ve seen the movie or don’t care about spoilers, then read away. As a side note, the movie isn’t very good. Can’t really recommend it, but there is a question at the heart of the movie (hence the spoilers) that has nagged at me since watching the mostly forgettable film.

Can a character in a book or movie do a really bad thing but still be redeemed in the eyes of the audience? According to those generating the backlash to this film, the answer to that is no. But that’s what’s bothering me. I see this attitude a lot. Take, for instance, the child who fell into the gorilla pit in Ohio, forcing zookeepers to shoot the gorilla to save the child. The backlash against the parents was absolutely brutal. I don’t know these parents – they could just be the worst – but objectively, I know my kids have gotten away from me in the time it took me to compare prices on two items at Menard’s. (Hysterics ensued. It was a bad day). Most of my friends and family members would say I’m strict and responsible. But things happen to everyone. Can these people be good parents who made a mistake? A very public and horrible mistake to be sure, but should they be crucified for it? So many posters online seemed to think so.

Which brings me to the movie. Chris Pratt’s character Jim is awakened early from the 120-year hibernation that should take him to a colony on a new planet. He spends a year trying to wake the crew, contact Earth, fix his predicament, followed by acceptance and then depression. He is so low that at one point, he contemplates suicide. The premise is eerie. I’m a card-carrying member of the introvert club. I was home alone for Mother’s Day weekend and it was the BEST GIFT EVER. But as much as I love being alone – and I really do – the idea of being alone from now until the day I die is pretty darn depressing. I don’t think God created us to be alone. Even the Unabomber-types that hole up in the mountains have the option of going into town for supplies and having at least a little human contact if they want it.

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Sony Pictures

So Jim, at this low point, decides to wake up Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora. He comes across her archived footage about why she chose to make the trip. She’s fun and smart and pretty. Jim feels like he’s found a lifeline and he grabs it. He knows what he’s doing is wrong; he agonizes over the decision but ultimately, he makes the selfish choice, never telling her what he’s done. They fall in love, blah, blah, and eventually she does find out and she hates him. Like completely hates him. I was prepared for one of those plot points where characters do bad things and are forgiven immediately so the film can progress. Their sins are never addressed. I didn’t feel that here. She calls him a murderer and tells him she doesn’t care why he woke her. I think the story gets her reaction pretty spot on.

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Sony Pictures

But from an audience perspective, I can’t just dismiss Jim as a perverted stalker. It’s kind of like cannibalism. We’d all love to believe we’d never be like the Donner party, but survival and self- preservation are tricky things. We do what we have to do to survive even if those things are terrible. I think we’d all like to believe if we were in Jim’s shoes, we’d be noble and die alone, but I can’t say definitively that I would be that selfless. My experience with human nature hasn’t shown me oodles of selflessness from others, either. So when people say, “I would never…” I’m kind of skeptical. I mean people will run over an old lady to grab a $99 TV at Walmart on Black Friday so I’m not buying that these same people would die alone out of a sense of nobility.

At the movie’s third act, the two have to work together long enough to survive a long and kind of unbelievable ship malfunction and resurrection scenario. In the end, Jim receives access codes that will allow him to use the medical unit in the ship’s hospital to put Aurora back in hibernation. This time, his act is selfless. He never suggests they flip a coin to see who should go back to sleep, even though he risked his life to save the ship. He could have chosen not tell her about it. They are on speaking terms again and he doesn’t try to milk that. He just says he can put her back to sleep and he’s willing to be alone. He always knew what he did was wrong but he’s at a better place. He’s not willing to make that mistake again.

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Sony Pictures

Aurora chooses to stay with Jim, realizing she loves him. And the hate directed at this decision online was pretty bad, saying her love couldn’t be real. So back to my question: can a character find redemption? Literature and film are full of them but it seems to me our culture today is less tolerant of imperfections. The anonymity of the internet allows us to bask in our own self-righteousness and cast stones with impunity. After all, no one will know about the time your baby rolled off the changing table or you cheated on your significant other or stole a candy bar at the store. And it sure feels good to cast the blame on others to boost our own spirits. It’s sad, really. It’s like empathy is dying off faster than newspaper jobs.

Like I said, the film was pretty bad from a plotting and realism point of view, but the question at its core is still making me think. I’ve done some horribly selfish things in my life, and I wish I could say I never will again. But that’s not likely. We’re human and at times we’re horrible. But not usually in a vacuum, horrible for the sake of being horrible. We often behave badly because we are hurt or desperate or afraid. We have our faulty logic and emotions that sometimes kick in and lead us astray. Since we all contain these same shortcomings – and like it or not, we do – I wish we could also find more empathy when we see bad choices in others, rather than just spewing hate.

So what are your thoughts? Am I seeing this all wrong?